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Conversations and collaborations: lessons from the Charleston Conference

As a first-time attendee of the Charleston Library Conference earlier this month, I knew I was headed for a few idea-charged days, but was overwhelmed by the amount of things I learned from the conference. The conference, according to its website, “is designed to be a collegial gathering of individuals from different areas who discuss the same issues in a non-threatening, friendly, and highly informal environment.” It not only succeeds in creating this friendly gathering, but also spurs questions for the future of libraries and information. I picked three sessions that impacted me, though all of the fantastic sessions and their implications have stayed with me since the end of the conference.

Rolling with the punches … and punching back: the millennial librarian’s approach to library budgets and acquisitions

This session was conducted as a panel between four librarians from libraries of different sizes and scopes. It was also presented as an open discussion surrounding the difficulties and opportunities that come from being labeled a “millennial” in our current generational terminology. The title of the panel immediately grabbed me as I also fall within the “millennial” generation range (generally understood as a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century), and was curious about what millennial librarians encounter in their daily work.

I was blown away by the panelists and their experiences. They noted that as early career librarians they feel they have to take on take on substantial, numerous projects to prove themselves, even though the projects might be outside of their skill set. They felt that their age and general stereotypes about millennials are obstacles in forging relationships with colleagues, as well as vendors, and that they had to be defensive about their abilities. I felt that these experiences were hugely important to share in keeping with the conference’s larger mission in forging conversation between diverse people engaged in current issues. Their discussion made me think about the library as a place composed of relationships, as well as its collections and services, and how crucial it is to work together to achieve the best experience for library users.

The questions that came up as I listened were not only about age and starting a career, but about the current state of libraries and budget structures. In general, libraries are operating on reduced budgets, curating leaner collections, and exploring changes to the physical layout. Focusing on staff development throughout these changes is key, noted one of the panelists, and holding events that recognize the users of the library goes a long way towards creating partnerships. Libraries are also moving towards becoming community spaces—the collections are still there to support research, but the need for collaborative environments within the library space is a constant conversation. One librarian noted that making a physical change in the library was a signifier for other changes to come in the library’s focus and mission, which was a similar theme in the next session I attended.

Re-imagining the library: relationships between library collections, space and public services

Following the previous session about millennial librarians, in my mind this session expanded on the idea of using the library space to communicate change to users. Representatives from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Libraries and the Rotterdam Public Library in the Netherlands presented on current strategies they employ to engage their users and surrounding communities. In the presentation, UCI explored its use of social media and other forms of engagement on campus, while the Rotterdam Public Library discussed reaching out to the surrounding neighborhoods and creating an inclusive environment.

Library electronic by geralt. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

UCI Libraries uses its social media channels to show off library events, users and their personal stories, and interior changes as the libraries go through construction projects. They also plan events in conjunction with other groups on campus, and experiment with different social media broadcasting features like Facebook Live, Periscope, and Instagram Stories to create an online community around the libraries’ activities. All of these strategies help to present UCI Libraries as an inviting place, and one that is committed to communication with its users and the wider world.

The Rotterdam Public Library presented a different but related set of strategies, in opening the library and its offerings up to the larger community of the city of Rotterdam. The library system has recently experienced a 75 percent reduction in the number of branches, but the director of the Rotterdam Public Library wants to change that by 2020 by expanding to 300 locations. Accessibility is one of the key objectives in the director’s plan, moving away from the library system’s previous centralization model. The library hopes to benefit more people by expanding its services, and especially hopes to involve the younger generation in using the library. The library offers video gaming opportunities (including beta testing new video games), live music, and workshops to encourage young adults to come in. It also offers opportunities for the refugee community that has settled in Rotterdam, which demonstrates the library’s goal of accessibility.

Both UCI Libraries’ and the Rotterdam Public Library’s examples of relationship building made me think about a library’s role in our changing world, and how being truly involved requires constant conversations with the community and its interests. Opening up the library to work beyond its walls and engaging with all communities show the library is both a physical space and a call to collaborate.

The nuts and bolts of supporting change and transformation for research libraries

Two librarians from North Carolina State University Libraries led this session, discussing several professional development programs NCSU Libraries have undertaken to empower library staff. These programs include the Data Science and Visualization Institute for Librarians and the Visualization Discussion series. The programs not only show off the expertise and learning opportunities for staff, but also the incredible amount of resources the NCSU Libraries system has to offer in technology and visualization.

The Data and Visualization Institute for Librarians started in the summer of 2014 and consisted of a week-long series of classes about important concepts in data analysis, visualization, content mining, and other topics. The Institute is currently known as the Data Science and Visualization Institute for Librarians and intends to build a community of practice within the librarian workforce. The 27 attendees from the most recent Institute included both NCSU librarians and librarians from other universities and with diverse experiences within the library field. I thought this was a phenomenal idea for encouraging discussion and training between librarians, for librarians. When the Institute isn’t in session, however, NCSU Libraries doesn’t slow down the learning opportunities.

In 2014 the Visualization Services Team at NCSU Libraries developed a “Coffee & Viz” seminar series, which continues today and offers informal discussions led by researchers from different disciplines on tools and techniques for visualization. I looked through the seminar series after the conference, and it included session topics that promote new technologies and support faculty research all while encouraging people to gather in the library to discuss the featured topics. This series combined with the Institute position NCSU Libraries to be a leader in this field and to get people excited about visualization strategies.

From these three sessions, examples of relationship building applied not only to working within the library or library system, but also to the wider community visiting the library. If you also attended the Charleston Conference or are interested in any of the themes presented, please share your thoughts! Let’s keep the conversations going.

Featured image credit: These two: Society Street, Charleston, SC by Hunky Punk. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

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